How to create new brain circuits that don’t depend on dopamine
by Clement Meadmore
In the past, dopamine substitutes were thought to be the only way to handle Parkinson's symptoms. Yet dopamine is only used by a small part of the brain specializing in repetitive movements. When dopamine production decreases, the control of movement becomes much less precise. Because the brain has considerable redundancy (unused areas) it is possible to use other non dopamine dependent parts of the brain to perform the same tasks. One does this by learning to create an exact replica of the symptom in order to take charge of it, and relearning the activity in its correct form until it can be committed to a healthy part of the brain This can be practiced by alternating between the two forms of movement deliberately. In case all this sounds too simple to be taken seriously, let us clear up a few misconceptions which could be getting in the way.
There is no such thing as Parkinson’s. Parkinson's is a word used to refer to two or more of a group of real symptoms and a deficiency of dopamine. The symptoms can be handled regardless of dopamine. In order to handle symptoms we must create a space between us and them. Sentences like “I am a parkinsonian” create no space at all. Here the person is the illness, this is a life sentence! “There are symptoms” would be much better.
Victim This one can really get in the way. Life is not inherently fair or unfair. ”Why me?” is a meaningless question, implying special privilege.
If we choose to go skiing we accept the possibility of a broken leg, so it makes no sense to regard oneself as a victim of skiing. The same goes for life. One may be the recipient of all sorts of things but a recipient is not the same thing as a victim. One cannot be a victim; one can only regard oneself as a victim thus abdicating responsibility.
We are not using this word to imply blame. We are talking about taking responsibility, which is what a responsible person does.
The symptoms, which we are now able to observe as separate from ourselves, all suggest a shrinking from life. Walking with small, shuffling steps, talking with a small, slurred voice, writing small and illegibly, and the small, repetitive movements of tremors. To counteract these symptoms we must practice doing all these small activities on a large scale. This includes embracing life on a large scale.
Intention and Automaticity
There are several ways to approach these problems. One is to compensate for the brain's deficiencies with synthetic dopamine, Sinemet etc. But the problem then is that we reduce the brain's incentive to establish, new circuits to replace the mal-functioning dopamine driven circuits. The alternative is to keep the medication to a minimum. This way the masking effect of the medication will be incomplete, thus reminding us to use as much intention as is needed to overcome the symptoms.
As children we learned to walk, talk and use our hands with grace and precision. Having learned these abilities, we allowed them to run on automatic. This works just fine until the brain loses certain cells.
Then we must begin again, learning to do consciously what we have been doing automatically. This means re-learning the activities that have been affected and keeping them conscious until the brain manages to hook up a non-dopamine circuit, at which point intention can be relaxed.
Fortunately all the symptoms we are dealing with have in common their accessibility to conscious control. Even balance can be learned. After all tight-rope walkers balance consciously, not automatically. Walking around consciously, like a tight-rope walker may require a lot of intention compared to walking on automatic, but it sure beats falling over!
Mind and Body
Experimentally, the mind can be tricked into erasing symptoms. It's called
the placebo effect. A patient is given a fake pill and told it is the latest high tech cure. Sometimes the patient makes a miraculous recovery. Obviously, he has been tricked into curing himself. We can't trick ourselves, but it does prove the feasibility of using our creativity to handle symptoms.
Speaking of real symptoms, Michael Talbot, in his book, The Holographic Universe, lists conditions that have proved responsive to placebo treatment: Angina pectoris, migraine headaches, allergies, fever, the common cold, acne, asthma, warts, various kinds of pain, nausea and seasickness, peptic ulcers, psychiatric syndromes, such as depression and anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, radiation sickness, PARKINSONISM, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. The implication is that the mind is capable of erasing all of these conditions and, probably, many more. Someone wrote to me asking where he could buy some placebo! That would be like trying to tickle yourself.
Ideally, we should be able to heal ourselves with full awareness and responsibility.
We are not suggesting that the symptoms are not real and, therefore, susceptible to positive thinking. On the contrary, we are talking about the creative ability to erase symptoms. By the way I am not claiming to have a cure, but a means to permanently erase the symptoms is not a bad start.
We can take charge of all of our actions. If the brain fails to perform to our expectations, we can bypass the brain and control the body directly.
In his book Beyond the quantum”, Michael Talbot describes some of the many cases on record of people with hydrocephalus or water on the brain, which is a condition characterized by an abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain” in one case a CAT scan revealed that a student who had an IQ of 126, had gained a first-class honors degree in mathematics, and functioned in all other ways as completely normal, had virtually no brain. Lining his skull was only a thin layer of brain cells a millimeter or so thick, and the rest of his cranium was filled with cerebrospinal fluid.”
More than 600 of these cases have been studied, 50% of whom live normal lives and have IQs of over 100. These people must be bypassing their brains all the time!
Instead of telling the mind to tell the brain to order the body part to move in a certain way, we can actually tell the body part how we want it to move without involving the brain at all! For example, we usually sign our names automatically and write semi-automatically, but if we had to forge someone-else’s signature we would have to intentionally form the letters. We did this when we first started signing our names but after a while the brain established a circuit to do it automatically. When this part of the brain malfunctions we have to program another part of the brain, by communicating directly with the hand, until an unused part of the brain picks up the new pattern.
Controlling the On/Off Switch
What if symptoms had on/off switches and we could simply turn them all off and be done with it? Actually, it is almost that simple, but bear in mind that like starting and stopping a car, on and off are equally important skills, and both have to be learned. And we learn them by bypassing the brain.
One day a school friend of mine arrived home with a terrible limp. When his mother asked him what had happened, he said Nothing happened, I’m just walking like Johnny.” His mother explained: That’s not nice, Johnny’s a cripple.” and my friend aid, “Do you mean to say he’s a cripple, and he can walk like that! “
Turning the switch on, means doing exactly what the symptom does, intentionally. In other words, we must create the symptom with intention instead of automaticity. Victor Frankl, in his1946 book Man’s Search For Meaning, an Introduction to Logotherapy, called this paradoxical intention’. In fact he coined the phrase in 1939. Turning a symptom on is certainly paradoxical! What Frankl had discovered is that in order to turn a symptom off we must first learn to turn it on, intentionally. Paradoxical intention really is that simple!
Turning the switch off means intentionally creating the normal state.
Turning the switch on and off, then, necessitates the degree of intention required to create the symptom exactly like the automatic version. Also, the same degree of intention is required to create the normal healthy condition; in both cases, bypassing the brain.
Two of the most important things to know about driving a car (or doing anything!) are how to start and stop. We learn by starting, stopping, starting, stopping, starting and stopping, until we have compete control of the car or the on/off switch.
We are not just learning to turn the switch off; we are learning to control the switch. This means learning to turn it off or on. It means being willing to do both and to do them with full intention.
Imagine that the mind is plugged into an input in the brain marked automatic (the part that works on dopamine) and what we are doing is to plug into an input marked intentional. Of course, we are not pulling plugs, as in an old-fashioned switch board, it is more like a modern board that uses switches instead of plugs. Unfortunately, these switches have a tendency to slip back into automatic like an automatic camera which won't stay on the manual setting. We need to exercise constant vigilance until the brain becomes accustomed to its new circuit layout.
Manual initially requires more energy than automatic did, but the energy requirement should become less as the new wiring settles in.
To put all this in simple language, instead of telling the brain to wiggle our big toe, we are telling the toe how to wiggle. Actually we do this every time we do something for the first time --- before a repetitive pattern is established.
In practice the aim is to overcome the symptomatic smallness of walking steps and of voice and writing by practicing an increase of size: walking faster and with longer strides, speaking louder and writing larger, and all with conscious intention.
The desired improvements will persist for longer periods each day. After two months, intention should only be required a few times per day, at which time the new circuits are well on their way to being permanently established. At this point there is a bonus: The newly automated activity requires far less effort than before the new circuit was established.
If turning a symptom on does not feel right (and it frequently does to some people), we do not need to! We only need to work on a symptom when it appears. At that time we can take responsibility for it (replicate it) until we are sure we are doing it and then turn it off. So, we never need to turn, it on, we just wait for it to turn itself on. Then mimic it.
We can obviously work on all the symptoms simultaneously but, for a quick shot of confidence, we can concentrate on one symptom at a time (see below) until a new brain circuit is firmly established. The feeling of successful responsibility as we hit the ground running is terrific. Now we know, without a doubt, that it is possible to create one new brain circuit and therefore it must be possible to create as many as needed.
Instructions for creating some
specific brain circuits
Start by walking with an intentional shuffle until it is exactly the same as the symptomatic shuffle, thus taking responsibility for the shuffle. Next, control the legs directly to do a normal walk. (This can only be done if the automatic brain circuit is not used). Until a new circuit is established a little more effort will be required, not only to walk but to direct the walking process consciously, as long as one remains responsible for walking, the legs will perform correctly.
When the mind wanders, the old brain circuit is likely to take over again and the process must be started again, including taking responsibility for the shuffling walk. After a few days of this, another part of the brain will begin to form a new circuit. This circuit will be slightly less efficient than the old one in its prime, but more efficient than the old one in its present state. As the new circuit settles in it will work the legs for longer and longer periods before slipping back to the old circuit, at which point a little conscious intention will be required to get the process back on track.
After a few weeks this new circuit will be established and it will be able to run the legs on automatic. Because this circuit is not dependent on dopamine, it should work indefinitely.
The characteristic writing symptom is small and scrawly and tends to get smaller towards the end of each line. Start by writing the same sentence over and over, with the same smallness and crudeness, only do it intentionally, taking responsibility for the symptomatic look of the writing. When this look has been produced by a conscious action, change to shaping each letter as though learning to write for the first time.
Make the activity of writing as intentional and non-automatic as possible, in order to wrest this activity away from the automatic brain circuit and make it an intentional, brain- bypassing activity.
It may be helpful to buy a simple instruction book on simple calligraphy (not the script style that used to be taught in school). Calligraphic writing is much more natural in terms of the way the hand muscles work. Many calligraphic pens are available and they are well worth while because they guide the hand in a simple basic clear style.
Write the same line over and over, making it slightly larger each time until the page is filled. Now choose the best size (get some opinions on this) and stick with it.
The commonly heard speech symptom is slurred and almost inaudible. To take responsibility for this requires becoming conscious of it (a tape recorder helps to make one objectively aware of the quietness and slurred enunciation) and continuing to do the same thing intentionally. Once this speech pattern has been intentionally replicated, switch to intentionally creating a normal speech pattern, louder, slower and more clearly enunciated. A speech therapist I know has come to the conclusion that loudness is by far the most important factor. Speaking at a volume close to shouting is actually much softer than it feels. The solution is to practice loud and get some opinions as to what sounds right.
If attention wanders and the slurred speech returns replicate it with intention and then, having bypassed the brain (because we don't need the brain to help us speak that way) we can return to normal speech. Gradually, the slur will recur less and less often and the new circuit will be established. If the new speech pattern sounds a bit rusty, a speech therapist would be helpful, but only after the new circuit has been established to some extent. Working with a speech therapist should complete the establishment of the new circuit.
If any part of the body displays a tremor, take charge of it by creating exactly the same thing intentionally. When we can produce the tremor intentionally, (switch it on) at will, we can also switch it off cease creating it intentionally. Here we are dealing with doing something and not doing something. We don't need an elaborate brain circuit to not do something. All we need is to take over responsibility for the tremor and for the absence of tremors. In other words we must learn to take responsibility for turning the switch off and on. (see Controlling the On/Off Switch’) Eventually, after becoming skilled at controlling the switch, it will be possible to turn it off and leave it off.
The brain like a computer is programmed to perform repetitive tasks in order to relieve the conscious mind of the trivial work of controlling thousands of, mostly unconscious, functions. Only a small percentage of these have been consciously learned, and an even smaller percentage are stored in the dopamine dependent area of the brain. Once responsibility is taken for the faulty instructions stored in this part of the brain the correct instructions can be relearned and fed into a non-dopamine dependent area of the brain. This process is automatically instigated by healthy areas of the brain in response to a consciously learned action. The brain has sufficient redundancy that it should be possible to shift everything from the affected circuits to non-dopamine- dependent areas.
Please send comments to Clement Meadmore,
260 5th Ave., 6N, , email@example.com New York, NY 10001